By Grace Mendel
The women’s tennis team starts off the season with high expectations and a 7-2 win against Augustana College already under their belt.
An especially intense pre-season and the return of veterans Constanza Alarcon ’13, Catherine Fitch ’13 and Laura Krull ’14 have contributed to the team’s sense of confidence in the matches leading up to this year’s Midwest Conference Championships. Alarcon returns after winning the number two singles title two seasons in a row. This year she will play doubles with Clothilde Thirouin ’14. Fitch, who was the number six singles champion in 2010, returns from being abroad. Krull was 8-2 in singles last season.
With last spring’s number one singles player, Sadhana Athreya ’14, studying at the London School of Economics for the entire year and Emma McDonald ’14 in Denmark for the semester, the team has faced changes to their lineup. A first-year recruit who would have played high in the lineup left the team before the start of the season after deciding Grinnell was not the place for her.
“That was definitely an unforeseen challenge to start it off,” Krull said. “We’ve really had to adjust as a team and really come back strong from it.”
The players have also faced the challenge of dealing with several injuries early in the season.
“If we really want to put our best foot forward in Conference, having a healthy team is very important,” said Head Coach Andy Hamilton ’85. “Right now we’re down two of our starters for this weekend, and that’s pretty impactful because they’re two starters in the top three of the team.”
The match this weekend against Luther College and the College of Saint Benedict will allow first-years Krista Matthews-Saugstad and Julia Rumley playing time. Coach Hamilton said the team is depending on these two players, as well as Emily Groth ’14, to fill the spots in the lineup caused by injured players. Hamilton hopes this will ultimately increase the depth of the team’s overall lineup.
Despite the initial challenges, Hamilton points out the team’s advantages going into Conference this year in the hopes of winning an eighth MWC Championship title in nine years.
“It’s become a regular expectation that we’re going to compete for the Midwest Conference Championship and this year is no different,” he said.
He noted that this season’s advantage is having six players whose experience of playing in Conference means that they already know how high the bar is set for Pioneer women’s tennis.
“[The veterans] know what those expectations are,” Hamilton said.
“We’re really in shape and really prepared,” Fitch said. “And if we’re able to heal up, we’re going to be really strong. Definitely winning conference, definitely going to nationals.”
The difficulties presented by injuries and players overseas will be easier to overcome because of this year’s positive team dynamic, according to Hamilton.
“What I’ve felt already with the team is a great connectedness between the individuals and how easy it’s been for us to put expectations out there and have our players work towards those expectations,” Hamilton said.
“We all get along really well,” Fitch said.
The next home match will be on September 30 against St. Norbert College, followed by home matches against Beloit College and Cornell College on October 6. The MWC Championships take place October 12 to 14 in Madison, WI.